A few more things on Gates
That last post on the now-infamous Gates arrest raised the room temperature quite a bit, so I thought I’d revisit a few salient points. First, here’s Slate on whether Gates’ conduct can plausibly be described as disorderly:
The stilted language in the Gates police report is intended to mirror the courts’ awkward phrasing, but the state could never make the charge stick. The law is aimed not at mere irascibility but rather at unruly behavior likely to set off wider unrest. Accordingly, the behavior must take place in public or on private property where people tend to gather. While the police allege that a crowd had formed outside Gates’ property, it is rare to see a disorderly conduct conviction for behavior on the suspect’s own front porch. In addition, political speech is excluded from the statute because of the First Amendment. Alleging racial bias, as Gates was doing, and protesting arrest both represent core political speech.
I think this jibes with my own reading of Massachusetts’ disorderly conduct statute, which is probably why the charges were dropped so quickly. Most apologists for the Cambridge PD simply ignore what the law actually says and instead claim that Gates behaved “boorishly” and “rudely” and therefore got what he deserved. I don’t doubt that Gates’ response was intemperate – though, given the circumstances, I understand why he reacted the way he did – but that’s not a reason to arrest the guy.
One other response to all this is to preemptively accuse Gates of being some sort of closeted radical which, presumably, means it’s OK to arrest him on sight (or something). Now, I find this all a bit hard to swallow, particularly when Gates gets favorable reviews from the impeccably credentialed John McWhorter (of the notoriously liberal Manhattan Institute) and the guy who wrote Liberal Fascism, but even if Gates is an Afrocentric Marxist, what does it matter? Arresting someone under false pretenses is wrong, whether the victim is Louis Farrakhan or your next door neighbor. Gates’ political views or the quality of his scholarship are completely unrelated to the issue of whether the arrest was justified.
The most (unintentionally) hilarious variant of this argument comes from (where else?) Townhall:
Gates identified what he called “a rainbow coalition of blacks, leftists, feminists, deconstructionists, and Marxists” who had entered academia and were “ready to take control.” It would not be much longer before that day came, he predicted. “As the old guard retires,” Gates proclaimed, “we will be in charge. Then, of course, the universities will become more liberal politically.”
[FROM MY FOOTNOTE]: After presenting himself with the rhetorical question, “What is a good cause?” Gates said, “One that we believe in, of course.” In order to clarify what a good cause is, Gates stated that “Taste is morality.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “Cultural Equity?,” ACLS Publications, Occasional Paper No. 20.
You can now see that Gates has been dreaming of a situation like this to come to his door.
Indeed. I can only imagine the choruses of “hallelujah” that spontaneously broke out in English lit departments across the country when news of the arrest broke. Adding injury to insult, the second paragraph from Townhall incorrectly (or dishonestly) cites Gates’ “Taste is morality” comment. Here’s the full context (emphasis mine):
Hand in hand with this conflation of textual and political representation has been a suspension in my own field of literary or esthetic judgment: the inability to distinguish between texts that are good and texts that are not so good—all in the name of a dubious multiculturalism. How did this come about? “Taste is not an index of morality,” Ruskin once wrote, “taste is morality.” Today we have inverted Ruskin to insist that taste is immorality or, at least, that judgments of taste were an unsuitable activity to engage in while children were watching. Not that anyone ever stopped judging, of course; judgment simply entered into the circuits of gossip, something done furtively and on the sly.
So we have Gates quoting John Ruskin in the process of refuting Ruskin’s claim, which is then ripped out of context by Townhall to imply that Gates is some sort of crazy moral relativist. Which is then taken as evidence that Gates has been waiting his whole life to get arrested under false pretenses. Does this make sense to anyone?
One last thing: Reflecting on Gates’ arrest, Conor Friedersdorf gently chides us for not paying enough attention to other, less visible instances of police abuse. I think this is a valuable point, though a lot of the incidents he highlights are related to genuinely controversial issues like drug enforcement. But the proposition that we have the right to criticize officers if we feel we’re being treated unfairly shouldn’t be controversial. Leaving aside the merits of Gates’ allegations of racism (I don’t care to speculate about the responding officer’s personal motives), you would think that the vast majority of God-fearing Americans would agree that we have the right to criticize law enforcement without fear of getting arrested on trumped-up charges. The fact that so many people are totally unfazed by this incident is, I think, worthy of special attention.